Bad economy may be the death of billable hours

If you've ever needed a lawyer, now's a good time to hire one.

Instead of the traditional billable hour, more lawyers are turning to flat costs for services, according to a Las Vegas Sun story.

Clients are demanding it, the American Bar Association is urging law firms to do away with the practice, and the Association of Corporate Counsel has made a "value challenge" to outside counsel to more closely align the value of legal services to the costs.

Like many other industries, the legal profession is seeing layoffs across the country, and law firms are trying to woo new business during the recession. Lower demand for legal work has given corporate clients more leverage to ask for alternative pricing, so there's no reason why it can't work for the common man.

A new law firm in Chicago announced in January that its business model would depend almost entirely on alternative billing methods for all commercial civil litigation. The firm cut costs by outsourcing legal work to offshore firms.

The billable hour is an easy way for law firms to keep track of how many hours their lawyers were working, and an easy way to bill clients. Still, many lawyers have, and continue to, charge flat rates for services such as wills and trusts.

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